|ORF has eliminated more than 22 acres of weekly mowed lawn areas, turning those swaths into meadow and reforestation land. This has led to savings on recurring maintenance expenses.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Office of Research Facilities began a comprehensive effort to minimize environmental conflicts on the NIH grounds by eventually eliminating pesticide and fertilizer use. The goal is to advance reforestation efforts, mitigate soil erosion as well as provide and enhance wildlife habitat.
“The 308-acre NIH campus is much more than just a beautiful place,” says Lynn Mueller, ORF landscape architect. “It is an outstanding example of innovative and best environmental practices.”
In particular, ORF has eliminated more than 22 acres of weekly mowed lawn areas, turning those swaths into meadow and reforestation land. This has led not only to savings on recurring maintenance expenses, but also has provided new and diverse wildlife habitat for birds and mammals. This acreage is now showing the natural regeneration of native trees that will attract other wildlife
Over those 20-plus years, surface parking lots have been replaced with multi-level parking structures, leading to an increase in campus green space. These natural, unmaintained areas are also responsible for greater stormwater control.
“Meadows and woodlands act as sponges and filters, absorbing rainwater and allowing it to infiltrate into the soil, recharging groundwater,” Mueller explains. “They act as filters by absorbing and then slowly releasing run-off, absorbing and blocking up-hill sediment flows and preventing soil erosion. Closely trimmed lawns do not have that full ability.”
The 50-foot-wide buffer strips along the stream banks filter out road and parking lot pollutants before they enter the stream and flow down to Rock Creek, to the Potomac and on into Chesapeake Bay.
“These small naturalized areas do much more than just look nice,” Mueller says.
Other ORF environmental initiatives include the almost total elimination of pesticide applications.
“Practicing integrated pest management, or IPM, over the past 25 years has allowed the campus to become much more in balance with beneficial insects and birds, controlling pest insects,” Mueller points out. “Only when absolutely necessary, ORF uses just the mildest of insecticides such as horticultural oil, insecticidal soap and Bacillus thuringiensis and only on a specific targeted pest on individual infested plants. Raising the tolerance for ‘weeds’ in the turf has allowed the total elimination of turf herbicide and insecticide applications.”
Soil tests are performed yearly to ensure the proper soil pH is maintained to support a healthy lawn. Lawn fertilizers have not been applied on campus in more than 20 years.
Mueller concludes, “All these environmental maintenance best practices have helped to protect the bay from unnecessary nutrient and sediment pollutants, all the while providing a lovely landscape for all to enjoy.”